The Morelia boeleni has been regarded as one of the most problematic species of python to maintain in captivity. This undeserving reputation is the result of many imported specimens dying of various reasons throughout the last 25 years. One must consider that these deceased wild-caught animals had been put under extreme stress during the capture and shipping process, and for the most part these specimens were maintained in captivity under the wrong conditions. Most of these wild-caught specimens were either sub-adults or adults, making acclimation to captivity even more difficult, thus increasing the chances of captive stress and death. Over this span of 25 years, collecting and shipping methods have improved and laws have changed allowing only captive hatched Morelia boeleni to be exported. These improved methods and laws have helped to advance our captive success and this infamous reputation is slowly deteriorating. With the help of Dr. Scott Stahl, www.seavs.com, we have complied the most common health issues regarding this species.

Like most animals Boelen’s Pythons are susceptible to bacterial infections. These infections can occur from an initial trauma such as “nose rub” or some other type of open wound, from the suppression of the immune system, captive stress, or exposure to infectious bacteria.

“Nose rub” is a common injury and is a result of anxiety and nervousness from wild-caught specimens of many types of reptiles. The outcome, a raw and bloody nose/snout and mouth, is a result from the specimen’s constant search for an exit or opening of the new confined enclosure. If gone untreated infection develops and can spread to the inner mouth (necrotizing stomatitis or “mouth rot”), including bone, facial tissues, and orbital structures. Usually there is a lost of appetite and dehydration associated with the infection. Allowing the infection to progress can lead to more invasive infections such as subspectacular abscess and panophthalmitis.

These images provide good examples of nose rub and mouth rot. If gone untreated the outcome will certainly be death. Consult your veterinarian as soon as you recognize there is a medical issue. Photo by Stahl

Subspectacular abscess and panophthalmitis can occur with out “nose rub” and necrotizing stomatitis. The beginning signs are characterized as the swelling of the spectacle of the infected eye. As the infection progresses a slight opacification (cloudiness, similar to ecdysis/shedding) of the infected eye occurs. Eventually the eye becomes fully opacified. During the final stages the eye is enlarged and filled with a thick white-yellow fluid. The spectacle and eye have to be removed at this point. The sequence for infection is as follows: bacteria ascend from the mouth through the lacrimal duct, travel into the lacrimal canal into the corneo-spectacular space (space between eye and spectacle). Early detection can prevent the loss of the eye but immediate attention must be taken upon diagnosis or determining there is swelling of the spectacle.

The progression of sub spectacular abscess eventually leads to panophthalmitis. If the symptoms are caught early enough the eye can be saved. This can be a reoccurring medical issue due to blockage of the lacrimal duct and canal. Photos by Stahl

Respiratory infections and pneumonia are also common with this species as with many species of python. Symptoms include “wet hiss” or raspy breathing, the presence or discharge of thick mucus, coughing, blowing bubbles, gapped mouth, and resting with the head elevated aiding breathing. These infections usually go unnoticed until a more serious infection sets in. Early diagnosis will ensure anti-biotic treatment is successful, observe captives as often as possible especially during the reproductive cycle when temperatures are at their coolest.

Necrotizing dermatitis or “scale rot” has also been recorded in this species, especially hatchlings. This syndrome usually occurs when specimens are exposed to excessive moisture, cooler temperatures, and poor husbandry

Scale rot example.

practices resulting in less than adequate sanitation or hygiene. Primarily it is the abdominal scales that are affected, and can be detected by the reddish-brown color change of the scales. If gone untreated blisters or bullae emerge and fill with fluid, when they rupture an open sore is the result. In the worse cases these sores can actually penetrate the abdominal cavity and death is the final result. Anti-biotic treatment along with the application of an anti-biotic ointment can cure this infection. During treatment the specimen should be moved to a warm, dry, enclosure.

There have been several recorded cases of Inclusion Body Disease/IBD occurring with this species. For those not familiar with this virus, it is classified as a retro virus and in most cases the out come is death. Signs of infection include central nervous system disorders such as paralysis, being unable to right itself when turned over, "star-gazing", inability to strike or constrict. Other signs include chronic regurgitation, extreme weight loss, respiratory infections, and dysecdysis due to the inability to control body movements enough to rub off the old skin. The disease is rapidly fatal in young and juveniles, typified by rapid onset of flaccid paralysis. Infectious stomatitis ("mouth rot"), heightened or exaggerated reflex responses, disorientation (which may be precipitated by the onset of central blindness) and loss of motor coordination are also additional signs that the virus may be present. At this time there is no treatment for the disease. Specimens in question can be given a blood test to determine if inclusions are present. Recorded cases show that a specimen can have inclusions and appear healthy and never show signs the virus is present. It is recommended that even these specimens be euthanized for this is an viral entity and could be passed on to other healthy specimens through contact between infectious specimens (such as housing an infected snake with a healthy one) or through airborne aerosolized secretions, or by the keeper passing secretions from one specimen or enclosure to another during the course of handling or cleaning (when strict quarantine and cleaning procedures are not followed). Current research has shown that this virus can be passed from mother to developing embryos, resulting in offspring that are infected with the virus.

The snake mite, Ophionyssus natricisis, is also considered a carrier and a vehicle of viral transportation. Great care should be taken to avoid infestation of this external parasite. Any specimen obtained that has been exposed to the snake mite should be tested for IBD and quarantined for a minimum of six months.

Ophionyssus natricisis, can easily spread Inclusion Body Disease throughout a whole collection. Take great measures to quarantine new specimens away from the collection for a minimum of 4 months.

Ticks also could be carriers of IBD so beware of these parasites as well.

Paramyxovirus has also been isolated in this species causing meningoencephalitis, the infection or inflammation of the brain. View article here.

Parasites have long plagued this species reputation and can single handedly be the primary reason why so many specimens were so short lived in captivity. This species is susceptible to the most common parasites associated with reptiles: ascarids/round worms, nematodes/Ophidascaris papuanus, cryptosporidium ssp., amboebiasis, trichomondas, ticks, and mites. Fecal analysis is the easiest form of detection. Treatment can be helpful but under extreme cases can also be detrimental. Be sure to follow the prescribed treatment given by the veterinarian and practice good aseptic technique between specimens.

Ascarids-roundworms, Parascaris equorum, infestation is tragic. Dr. Scott Stahl shows during this autopsy how adult roundworms effect every part of the specimens body. Photo by Stahl

Open wide and say ....


Photos by Sola